Volatility of restaurant biz doesn't detract celebs

Entertainment bizzers just can’t seem to stay away from restaurants. But they’re not just having power lunches — it seems like nearly every Hollywood figure, whether in front of or behind the camera, has invested in an eatery.

Wary of letting others control their investments, the latest wave of industry restaurateurs is taking its involvement a few steps deeper. Producer Gavin Polone traveled around testing waffle irons before launching Hollywood’s modern diner the Waffle in February. Eva Longoria Parker calls or texts her new restaurant Beso every day, even from the Cannes Film Festival, to check on the day’s receipts. And while juggling production duties on films such as “The Incredible Hulk,” Gale Anne Hurd spent nearly half her time launching Vertical Wine Bistro in Pasadena.

“The beginning was really hairy,” says principal investor Polone, who runs the Waffle with casting director John Papsidera. Seeing L.A.’s packed breakfast spots, Polone identified a need, came up with the breakfast, cocktails and latenight dining concept, and hired chef Scooter Kanfer, who had cooked at the Hollywood Hills Coffee Shop and the House.

“I think I intended to spend less time on it, but you can’t really do that. If it’s your money, you have to pay attention to what’s going on,” says Polone, who recently wrapped “Ghost Town” with Ricky Gervais.

He admits to being stung by the frantic attention that blogs, websites and newspapers have started devoting time to new restaurants, often publishing critiques during the first week of opening. “It takes three months,” for a restaurant to find its groove, he says. “Now we’re really rocking.”

Sam Nazarian’s SBE Entertainment restaurants usually draw plenty of celebrities as customers, but he hadn’t targeted the business for investors until launching Foxtail in February, next to venerable industry hangout Dan Tana’s. He invited a group of his friends that he felt “covered the gamut of film and TV” to partner in the restaurant/lounge, including NBC’s Ben Silverman, agent Patrick Whitesell, producer Scott Stuber and director Brett Ratner. The boys’ club reps the type of clientele the Foxtail is looking to attract as its long-term base: “an older demographic, agents who can come to get business done — a little bit more sophisticated clientele,” Nazarian says.

Clearly one of Hollywood’s current hot spots, Foxtail’s lounge is attracting the likes of Nicole Richie and Jessica Simpson, but Nazarian says the restaurant, which evokes a 1970s London supper club, right down to the vintage cube-shaped ice machine, is meant for a seasoned industry crowd. Chef Antonia Lofaso, formerly of Spago, upped the visibility even more when she competed on “Top Chef” just after opening Foxtail.

Hurd decided to try the famously risky restaurant biz after she moved to Pasadena and her favorite wine bar closed. She launched Vertical Wine Bar in 2006 in Pasadena’s hopping Old Town neighborhood, at a time when Pasadena dining was taking a big leap forward from chain venues. Hurd has dialed back from the intensive time she was spending on the wine bar, but she still consults on the menus with chef Sara Levine and recent decisions such as opening for lunch.

“With a film, you go from project to project, then it breaks up,” Hurd says. “But with a restaurant, the family stays together. It’s very similar to the film business, it’s about having a good concept.”

It seems like Longoria Parker would be plenty busy with “Desperate Housewives” and appearing in feature films. But with Beso, launched in April with chef Todd English’s Mediterranean/Latino menu, she’s remained hands-on. “Nine out of 10 times, the celebrities aren’t involved,” says co-owner Jonas Lowrance, who runs day-to-day operations with co-owner J.T. Torregiani. “She asks for the numbers all the time and comes by two to four times a week when she’s in town.”

Despite plenty of celeb visitors such as Longoria Parker’s friends David Beckham and Cameron Diaz, Lowrance says Beso “has a wide price range. We’re not trying to keep it the trendiest place in Hollywood.”

Perhaps the only celebrity not getting into the food biz is Jake Gyllenhaal, who was recently reported biking around Italy with Reese Witherspoon investigating concepts for an L.A. organic restaurant. But his reps now say that the announcement was just as insubstantial as a parmesan foam topping.

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